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My dad's Tribute

A TRIBUTE TO PAUL, MY SON-IN-LAW

By Robert Bellarmine, Chennai, India


Even before meeting Paul, I had to form some first impressions about him. For, Sudha confided in me about their being in love for a few years and planned to get married. My prospective son-in-law being a Westerner, I was getting very anxious. As Sudha had described Paul as a tall, fair and handsome man, I feared that he would rule over my daughter; that he would be excessively demanding; and that he would treat his Indian relatives with no respect. Remembering that the divorce rate in England was very high, I feared that at some point, he would break the marriage.


However, Sudha strongly pleaded for the marriage. So my wife and I gave her our consent. To help us to know Paul first hand, she brought him to India before the wedding. In ten days, my impression changed. First, he struck me as a person who tried to be himself wherever he was. Second, he sincerely respected people of other cultures. Third, he was a person of simple and inexpensive habits. Fourth, he promised to be faithful to his wife. Finally, he clearly answered my favourite question: what's the purpose of life -- wealth, health, success, usefulness or happiness? His unequivocal, though unspoken response was "USEFULNESS to others".


Whenever Paul visited us in Chennai, he went around a large lake famous as the breeding ground for migrant birds. One day he showed me the pictures of the birds he had captured in his camera. Even as a novice, I was able to appreciate the value of the pictures. Paul deepened my interest by adding a lot of interesting information about them. At one stage, I started giggling. For, it looked as though he was describing his own distant relatives.


I seriously suggested that he should sell the pictures to the National Geographic. But he laughed at it loudly, hinting that his interest in birds was of an entirely different kind.


Later, when I visited him here, I realised how special his engagement with birds was. In his house I saw a contraption that looked like a trap. But Sudha explained that it was a nest Paul had designed and was so passionate about promoting it.


It was then that  the extraordinariness of his interest in birds hit me. It was not that of an academic or professional photographer but that of a lover. For Paul, birds were not objects of zoological observation. As for Wordsworth, for Paul, they were respectable subjects of an alternative universe: Nature with a capital N.

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